Naushad: fled is that music
Saushad the maestro is dead, but his music lives. If ever a cliché was true, then this one is. In 1992, Naushad, an accomplished poet who wrote in the tradition of the great masters of Urdu poetry, published a collection that he called Aathwan Sur – the eighth note. The text was set in Urdu and the Devnagri script, since the younger generation of Indian Muslims is mostly unable to read Urdu.
In a brief foreword, Naushad wrote, “If you find anything here that you like, please consider it a reflection of the many accomplished men whose company I have been privileged to keep. If your eye, while scanning a poem, momentarily comes to rest upon a verse, it will be no more than a distant projection of the light that was Lucknow. And if you read a line that you like, please let its credit go to Urdu, that wonderful language which can transmute even prosaic thoughts so that they come to acquire the splendid beauty of a bedecked, bejewelled bride.
Naushad was born in a Lucknow that no longer exists. In 1992 when I was finally able to go to that city, which for me was like a dream come true, what awaited me was disillusionment. I looked far and wide for a bookshop selling Urdu books. I found none, except a tiny little outlet stocked with old and discarded books, none of which were any use to me. There wasn’t even a shop sign in Urdu. I went looking for Maktaba Nawal Kishore and found what looked like a weather-beaten, abandoned building with a sign which could barely be read. On the streets where Syed Naushad Ali grew up, I found ugly black pigs with their snouts in piles of rubbish. It was an apocalyptic vision akin to something out of a Fellini movie. But let me return to Naushad, the perfect master.
After Naushad returned to India in the late 1980s following heart bypass surgery in California, which he used to visit often, a friend of mine, Akhtar Mirza in Lahore, wrote to him, asking him to come to Pakistan and promising to take him to the accomplished mystic, the late Sufi Barkat Ali of Salarpur, for his blessings. Naushad replied that he owed his second life to God’s grace and the good wishes of his friends and admirers. My take on this exchange was somewhat different; I wrote to Akhtar Mirza that in case Naushad did come to Pakistan – which, regrettably, he never did – my friend should bring his spiritual guide all the way down to meet the man who had created music of such sweetness and beauty that for well over half a century, hundreds of millions of people, embracing several generations, had derived peace of mind and happiness from it. The perfect master, in my opinion, was Naushad and he it was to whom court should be paid. He was among the truly blessed because what divinity there is in human beings, must lie in music and poetry. The rest is dross.
Naushad was an attai , which means that like the great Khurshid Anwar, his musical gift was not bequeathed to him through lineage or miras , but acquired and learnt. Normally, professional musicians thumb their noses at those born outside the tradition, but when it came to men like Naushad and Khurshid Anwar, they considered it a privilege to sit at their feet and be touched by the spirit that permeates all great music.
Tracing Naushad’s musical journey that began in the early 1940s is like tracing the history of Indian cinema itself. It was his score for Sharda that became the toast of India. One of the numbers sung by a diminutive, black-eyed teenager from the back streets of Badshahi Mosque, Lahore, falls as sweetly on the ear today as it did more than sixty years ago. The number was Panchi ja, peechay raha hai bachpan mera, ussko ja kai laa and it was sung by Surrayya. Naushad was born the same day that saw the arrival in this world of Jesus Christ and Muhammad Ali Jinnah – December 25. The year was 1919. He was only seventeen when he arrived in what then was – and perhaps still is – the city of dreams, Bombay. Four years later, he scored his first movie, Prem Nagar .
In 1944, a year before the Second War ended, the great music blockbuster Rattan was released. Its ten songs were hits across the length and breadth of undivided India. It was Naushad’s genius that he even made the flat-voiced, Gujranwala-born Kiran Diwan, the male lead in the movie against Swarn Lata, join the inimitable Zohra Bai Ambalaywali in one of best loved songs of all times: Sawan ke badlo . In Anmol Garhi , he teamed up the silver-voiced Nur Jehan with another flat-voiced leading man, Surendra, to score a song that was to become Madam Nur Jehan’s signature tune: Awaz dey kahan hai. The immortal K.L. Saigol sang his last great songs for Naushad’s Shahjehan . The list of Naushad’s hit movie scores has been equalled by no other music director. Just consider this formidable lineup: Dard , Andaz , Aan , Mela , Anokhi Ada , Dulari , Jadoo , Dillagi , Babul , Baiju Bawra , Deedar , Mother India , Mughal-e-Azam , Kho-i-Noor , Uran Khatola , Ganga Jamuna , Mere Mehboob , Leader , Shabab , Amar , Ram aur Shyam . It is just amazing.
And consider the actors, actresses, singers and lyricists who are associated with Naushad’s music, all legends in their own right. Among the actors one will always associate with Naushad are: Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar, Sunil Dutt, Raj Kumar and Bharat Bhushan. And the women? Just think of them: Nargis, Meena Kumari, Nimmi and that tragic beauty Madhubala, not to mention the Bombshell of the South, Vijayantimala. And now the lyricists: D.N. Madhok, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Shakil Badayuni, Khumar Barabankvi, Tanvir Naqvi. The singers who sang for him included K.L. Saigol, Zohra Bai Ambalaywali, Amir Bai Kranatki, Shamshad Begum (his particular favourite), Lata Mangeshkar, Surrayya, Nur Jehan, Muhammad Rafi, Mukesh, Manna Dey – and among the younger set – Anuradha Podwal, Muhammad Aziz and Kumar Sanu.
Naushad’s great gift lay in his ability to adapt the haunting folk music of Eastern Uttar Pradesh to the sweetest classical music raagas . His most memorable compositions are a blend of the two. I remember the late Agha Mubarak Ali of Amelia Hotel, Sialkot, a great connoisseur of music, once telling me that the hits of Naushad’s next movie can be pre-heard in the interval pieces of music that subdivide the lyrics in his current movie hit. And, added Agha, when you hear the new music, it immediately lodges in your heart and memory because you have already heard the essential melody before, though without knowing it.
Syed Naushad Ali is dead. Long live Syed Naushad Ali.